1. How simple ideas lead to scientific discoveries – TED Talk by Adam Savage

    October 27, 2015

  2. Moon Parka: Outerwear Made From Synthetic Spider Silk

    October 27, 2015


    “Stronger than steel and more flexible than nylon, spider silk is said to be the toughest material on earth. For the past 11 years a Japanese company has been attempting to harness that strength to create a new type of material with unprecedented versatility. They’ve now unveiled their working prototype: the Moon Parka.


    The Moon Parka is the result of 11 years of technological innovation and investment, 10 design iterations and 656 gene synthesis designs. The main barrier, says Spiber, was synthetically producing spider silk that was economically feasible. To create their artificial spider silk fiber called Qmonos (from the Japanese word kumonosu meaning ‘spider web’) the company used a fermentation process that involved microorganisms manufacturing recombinant proteins. This was not cheap. But Spiber has made remarkable progress and the cost is now 1/53,000 of what it was in 2008

    Spiber first gave the public a peek at their technology in 2013 when they created a cocktail dress made from Qmonos. But now they’re getting serious and have teamed up with North Face to produce the Moon Parka. It was named after the most remote and extreme environment upon which mankind has ever set foot, likening their breakthrough to a “moonshot” that was always considered an impossible goal.

    spiber dress

    And apparel is only the company’s initial target. They envision their material to have applications in the automotive and medical device industries as well.

    The Moon Parka won’t be commercially available until 2016 but according to the press release it’s currently touring North Face stores across Japan through January 10, 2016.”

    Story from Spoon and Tomago

    Spiber’s products represent just one of many research efforts going on around the world to capitalize on the special characteristics of spider silk.



  3. This Slinky lookalike “hyperlens” helps us see tiny objects

    May 28, 2015
    A metamaterial hyperlens, which looks like a Slinky suspended in motion. The light-colored slivers are gold and the darker ones are PMMA (a transparent thermoplastic). Light passes through the hyperlens improving the resolution of very small objects.

    The image (above) shows a metamaterial hyperlens. The light-colored slivers are gold and the darker ones are PMMA (a transparent thermoplastic). Light passes through the hyperlens improving the resolution of very small objects.

    The photonics advancement could improve early cancer detection, nanoelectronics manufacturing and scientists’ ability to observe single molecules

    “There is a great need in health care, nanotechnology and other areas to improve our ability to see tiny objects that elude even the most powerful optical systems. The hyperlens we are developing is, potentially, a giant step toward solving this problem.”
    Natalia Litchinitser, professor of electrical engineering
    University at Buffalo


    It looks like a Slinky suspended in motion.

    Yet this photonics advancement – called a metamaterial hyperlens – doesn’t climb down stairs.

    Instead, it improves our ability to see tiny objects.

    Described in a research paper published today by the journal Nature Communications, the hyperlens may someday help detect some of the most lethal forms of cancer.

    It could also lead to advancements in nanoelectronic manufacturing and boost scientists’ ability to examine single molecules – a development with implications in physics, chemistry, biology and other fields.

    “There is a great need in healthcare, nanotechnology and other areas to improve our ability to see tiny objects that elude even the most powerful optical systems. The hyperlens we are developing is, potentially, a giant step toward solving this problem,” says Natalia Litchinitser, PhD, professor of electrical engineering at the University at Buffalo and the paper’s lead author.

    Co-authors are Jingbo Sun, PhD, assistant research professor of electrical engineering at UB, and Mikhail I. Shalaev, a PhD candidate in Litchintser’s lab.

    Conventional optical systems, such as microscopes and cameras, are limited by diffraction, a phenomena in which light bends as it passes around an edge or through a slit. An example of this are the closely spaced tracks of a DVD, which form a rainbow pattern when looking at the disk.

    Diffraction sets a fundamental limit to the resolution of optical systems.

    Scientists are working to solve diffraction with metamaterials, which are materials engineered to have properties not yet discovered in nature. Typically, the materials are arranged in repetitive patterns, often smaller in scale than the wavelengths of the phenomena they influence.

    Metamaterial hyperlenses overcome the diffraction limit by transforming decaying evanescent waves into propagating waves. Once converted, the former decaying waves, which were commonly lost in conventional imaging, can be collected and transmitted using standard optical components.

    Some of the first metamaterial hyperlenses consisted of tiny concentric rings of silver and dielectric (an insulating material). However, this design only works within a narrow range of wavelengths and it suffers from large losses of resonance.

    Instead of concentric rings, UB researchers formed tiny slivers of gold and PMMA (a transparent thermoplastic) into a radial shape. The design of this metamaterial hyperlens, which looks like a Slinky suspended in motion, overcomes the diffraction limit in visible frequency range. Moreover, it can be integrated with an optical waveguide, opening the door to hyperlens-based medical endoscopes.

    More studies are required, but such a tool could improve doctors’ ability to detect some of the most lethal forms of cancer, such as ovarian cancer.

    For example, today’s high-resolution endoscopes can resolve objects to about 10,000 nanometers. The hyperlens could improve that to at least 250 nanometers or better. This is important because the earlier doctors are able to discover hard-to-find cancers, the more success they have treating the disease.

    Another potential application centers on optical nanolithography, the process of passing light through a mask to a pattern on polymer film. Continuous improvement in this field is essential to building the next generation of optoelectronic devices, data storage drives, sensors and other gadgets.

    The hyperlens also show promise in sequencing single molecules, a potential advancement with broad implications in numerous fields of research including physics, chemistry and biology.

    The research was supported by grants from the U.S. Army Research Office and the National Science Foundation.

    Story from University of Buffalo

  4. New from the Time Lords

    April 29, 2015

    atomic clock

    Physicists have fine-tuned an atomic clock to the point where it won’t lose or gain a second in 15 billion years — longer than the universe has existed.

    The ‘optical lattice’ clock, which uses strontium atoms, is now three times more accurate than a year ago when it set the previous world record, its developers report in the journal Nature Communications .

    The advance brings science a step closer to replacing the current gold standard in timekeeping: the caesium fountain clock that is used to set Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), the official world time.

    “Precise and accurate optical atomic clocks have the potential to transform global timekeeping,” write the study’s authors.

    Accurate timekeeping is crucial for satellite navigation systems, mobile telephones and digital TV, among other applications, and may open new frontiers in research fields like quantum science.

    The world’s official unit of time, the second, has since 1967 been determined by the vibration frequency of an atom of the metallic element Caesium 133 — a method of measurement similar to monitoring the pendulum swings of a grandfather clock.

    The instrument used to set international time is the caesium fountain clock, which has improved significantly over the decades and can keep time to within one second over 100 million years.

    But new, experimental optical clocks that work with strontium atoms at optical frequencies much higher than the microwave frequencies used in caesium clocks, have been shown in recent years to be even more accurate.

    The clock in the latest study, developed by scientists at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the University of Colorado in Boulder, measures time by detecting the natural vibrations or “ticks” of strontium atoms in red laser light.

    No freezing required

    The clock’s stability — how closely each tick matches every other tick, “has been improved by almost 50 per cent, another world record,” say the researchers.

    “This enhanced stability… brings optical lattice clocks closer to the point of replacing the current standard of measurement, the caesium fountain clock.”

    The clock is also sensitive enough, the researchers say, to measure tiny changes in the passage of time at different altitudes — a phenomenon predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago and studied ever since.

    Einstein’s relativity theory states a clock must tick faster at the top of a mountain than at its foot, due to the effects of gravity.

    “Our performance means that we can measure the gravitational shift when you raise the clock just two centimetres on the Earth’s surface,” says study co-author Professor Jun Ye of the University of Colorado.

    The team had built a radiation shield around the atom chamber of their clock, which means it can be operated at room temperature rather than in cryogenic conditions.

    “This is actually one of the strongest points of our approach, in that we can operate the clock in a simple and normal configuration,” says Ye.

    This story has been re-blogged from ABC Science